Do Police Need a 2nd Warrant to Test A DWI Blood Sample?

One of the cardinal rules of criminal law is that police must normally obtain a warrant before conducting a search.

The warrant itself must specify the scope of that search.

In other words, it is unlawful for a judge to issue a “general warrant” that gives the police broad discretion to search an unspecified place.

In DWI and drunk driving cases, police often need to conduct two legally distinct searches: One to draw a defendant’s blood, and the second when that blood is actually tested for any alcohol content.

A search warrant will often expressly authorize both searches and seizures. But what if it does not? If the warrant only expressly mentions a blood draw, does that “imply” police can also test the drawn sample?

CCA: “Probable Cause” Finding;

Implicit Authority to Test Defendant’s Blood

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently addressed this issue.

In Crider v. State, a police officer received a report of a person who had been driving erratically. A 911 caller provided the location of whether this driver had parked. A police officer dispatched to that location found a vehicle with its driver–the defendant–sitting inside.

The officer observed multiple signs indicating the defendant might be intoxicated. After the defendant failed a field sobriety test, the officer placed him under arrest.

The officer then applied for a search warrant.

Texas DWI Blood Sample WarrantThe warrant that was subsequently issued authorized an extraction of a blood sample from the defendant–but it did not “explicitly authorize the chemical testing,” according to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Nevertheless, the police tested the sample, which revealed the defendant had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit.

While the defendant conceded the search warrant was valid, he nevertheless argued its scope was limited to the taking of the sample and not the testing. The trial judge rejected that argument, however, and denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the blood test.

On appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Eight of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ nine judges agreed that under the particular facts of this case, this was not a scenario where the lack of express authorization for analyzing the blood sample created a “general warrant” situation.

To the contrary, the magistrate who issued the warrant determined there was “probable cause” to suspect the defendant of drunk driving. The warrant therefore authorized the “seizure” of the blood sample “for the explicit purpose of determining its evidentiary value.” Put another way, the warrant only permitted the state to test the sample for alcohol concentration and not anything else, say “genetic information.”

Four judges wrote separately to note that there might be scenarios where a second warrant may be necessary. But given the magistrate in this case already determined there was probable cause of drunk driving, a second warrant was not strictly required.

Facing A Similar Situation with a Texas DWI Case?

Contact Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A. Nelson for Help, Today!

An improper (or absent) search warrant can call into question the validity of a DWI charge. That’s why if you’re facing such a charge, it’s in your best interest to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who understands the laws surrounding drunk driving incidents and the criminal cases which usually follow.

If you need to speak with a lawyer right away, contact the Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A. Nelson today in Houston, Galveston or League City. Our phone number is 713-489-7373.